Going into this trip, the Italian Riviera was one of my top travel destinations in the world. There’s something about the sea, a sunset, and a view – it’ll get me every time. If you ever want to give me a gift, please give me a view. That’s good enough, and it’s better than any sort of material possession you could provide. Ever since I was young, I was attracted to the idea of being in a position where I could see everything that was going on – whether on top of a mountain or on top of a skyscraper. It was that perspective that I loved. In the Cinque Terre, you can really find that perspective.
Cinque Terre means “Five Lands,” and it is a series of five small fishing villages (from north to south; Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) built into the cliffs of the Tyrrhenian Sea in the northwestern coastal nook of Italy. Undiscovered for many years, these little villages relied on modest income from fishing, and even were somewhat economically depressed until the 1970’s. At that time, backpackers discovered this little gem, and now, the Five Lands are not quite a mainstream travel destination, but definitely not an unknown. Popularized by Rick Steves and other European tour guides, the Cinque Terre is a popular destination for those who want to search beyond the typical Italian destinations of Rome, Venice, and Florence.
Due to their popularity, these tiny villages can get to be rather crowded during summer days, when cruises and tour groups go through the town. Due to the fact that we visited in August, we were right in the heart of travel season. However, even if you’re traveling during peak season, you can still enjoy the Cinque Terre.
We chose to stay in beautiful Manarola. Manarola is one of the smaller of the villages, but in my opinion, the most picturesque. During the day, it was hot and the streets were packed. However, after 5:00 PM, the crowds subsided, and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. And man, was it incredible. One thing we definitely recommend is to stay within the Cinque Terre – don’t just make it a day trip. If you are only there during the day, you will be jockeying for position with many other day-trippers. However, once they all clear out, you can really enjoy the town. When it comes down to it, Manarola and the other towns of the Cinque Terre are still just small fishing villages – they just have now invited other people to enjoy the culture with them. Once the crowds clear out, you can enjoy the dynamic of the visitors and the locals (who still live there and have likely lived there since long before anyone had ever heard of the Cinque Terre). This is one of the places that you truly feel like there is no other place like it on earth (unless, I suppose, you head down the coast to the Amalfi area).
The main “street” of Manarola
There is no formal beach, but you can take a dip from the rocks
After enjoying the town for a little bit, take a walk out along the cliffs going away from Manarola. You will be able to enjoy a spectacular view of the town, as well as the next village over, Corniglia.
Corniglia, the smallest and least accessible of the Five Lands, is atop the rocky hill just past the lights
After some local food and wine, our first afternoon and evening in the Cinque Terre was complete. To find out about the local cuisine and our travel to the other villages of the Cinque Terre, check back next time!